The promotion of Adley Rutschman and Nolan Gorman last week frees up two spots in my Five on the Verge. Perhaps it makes sense, then, to get Oneil Cruz back in there. His improved production over the past couple weeks has media folks again clamoring for him to get the call. Here's one such example:
Those numbers are a little worse after a 1-for-5 performance Wednesday, but you get the point. Since about early May, Cruz has been doing the sorts of things he should have been doing all along. That's not to say he's blown the doors off or has done anything to make people point and stare. He hasn't even performed up to last year's numbers yet. But for the past three weeks, he's been more or less what you'd expect a top prospect to be.
And yet he's still batting .197 overall.
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I don't see it, not yet. Just what's the motivation for the Pirates? Sure, they don't want to hinder his development. They're probably anxious to introduce (or re-introduce seeing as he got a couple at-bats last year) a potential franchise player to their throngs of adoring fans (ha ha). But they want to put him in a position to succeed, too.
Just because he's begun to keep his head above water at Triple-A doesn't mean he's mastered it, and in case you haven't noticed (surely the Pirates have), the final jump from the minors and the majors has become particularly daunting the couple years. Unlike Cruz, Bobby Witt made an absolute mockery of Triple-A, and boy has reality come back to bite him in the majors.
Why rush it if you're the Pirates? Cruz is still only 23, he still hasn't played a full season's worth of games above A-ball, and after a slow start, he still hasn't gotten his batting average even back to the Mendoza line. Maybe if they were in the playoff hunt, they'd push the envelope more, but I kind of doubt it. Even the financial considerations seem secondary in this case. Cruz simply hasn't proven that he's in need of a new challenge yet, so for that reason, at least for one more week, I'm leaving him out of my ...
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Royce Lewis, SS, Twins
2022 minors: .319 BA (116 AB), 5 HR, 10 SB, .989 OPS, 18 BB, 28 K
2022 majors: .308 BA (39 AB), 2 HR, 4 2B, .889 OPS, 1 BB, 5 K
The Twins do seem to be following through on their plan to get Lewis reps at positions other than shortstop, having given the 22-year-old a start in left field and a start at third base already. But his other four appearances since being optioned back to Triple-A have come at either shortstop or DH, which would suggest they're not in a hurry to familiarize him with the positions where the big-league club needs the most help. Manager Rocco Baldelli has said, though, that the pregame work Lewis gets at those positions might be even more important than game action. At Triple-A, he can expand his versatility while continuing to develop as a shortstop. That's how the Twins are justifying it, anyway.
Barring an injury, he'll for sure be back in the majors this year -- and probably sooner than later. Having seen him perform at the highest level already makes him all the more worth waiting for.
Grayson Rodriguez, SP, Orioles
2021 minors: 9-1, 2.36 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 103 IP, 27 BB, 161 K
2022 minors: 4-1, 2.70 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 43 1/3 IP, 14 BB, 66 K
With Adley Rutschman now in the majors, all eyes turn to the game's top pitching prospect, who just made his first six-inning start of the season last time out, striking out nine. It's worth noting he had only one start of that distance last year as well. A week ago, Jeffrey Pasternostro of Baseball Prospectus noted that Rodriguez hasn't had quite his usual velocity or quite the usual feel for his breaking balls, yet he's dominated at the highest level of the minors anyway, which speaks not only to his ability but also the possibility that the Orioles may be waiting to see something more from him. Still, the chances that he's confined to the minors all year are approximately slim to none.
2021 minors: .289 BA (311 AB), 23 HR, 8 SB, .934 OPS, 22 BB, 99 K
2022 minors: .255 BA (55 AB), 5 HR, 1 SB, 1.046 OPS, 10 BB, 20 K
2022 majors: .231 BA (65 AB), 3 HR, 1 SB, 1 BB, 24 K
After a blistering return to Triple-A featuring some particularly loud home runs, Adell has fallen on hard times lately, going 3 for 24 (.125) with 10 strikeouts over his past six games. He has struck at least once in all 14 games since being sent down. Nonetheless, the Angels are short-handed in the outfield right now with Taylor Ward nursing a shoulder injury, and while they haven't shown any inclination to make an IL move, Tyler Wade clearly isn't getting it done in his absence. Could Adell sitting out Wednesday's game for Salt Lake signal that a return is on the horizon? Even if it is, there's no guarantee that his latest stint will go any better than the first three.
Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B, Royals
2021 minors: .300 BA (437 AB), 24 HR, 37 2B, .957 OPS, 64 BB, 64 K
2022 minors: .296 BA (152 AB), 12 HR, 14 2B, 1.034 OPS, 24 BB, 27 K
The 24-year-old looked like he was on the verge of a call-up even before a monster performance Wednesday in which he went 5 for 7 with two homers and two doubles. It was his fifth multi-hit game in seven. He's batting .516 (16 for 31) with four homers and seven doubles during that stretch.
For all the home runs, his plate discipline remains his best feature. Rare these days is the power hitter -- or any hitter, really -- with a 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he's at it for a second straight year. Pasquantino has clearly surpassed fellow first base prospect Nick Pratto in the pecking order, and with Carlos Santana struggling to deliver even a .600 OPS at the big-league level, there's room for him in the Royals lineup.
Miguel Vargas, 3B, Dodgers
2021 minors: .319 BA (483 AB), 23 HR, 11 SB, .906 OPS, 45 BB, 89 K
2022 minors: .311 BA (164 AB), 7 HR, 4 SB, .934 OPS, 30 BB, 30 K
Speaking of plate discipline, the strides this 22-year-old has made in that respect while playing for the first time at Triple-A suggest that he doesn't have much more to accomplish in the minors, at least not offensively. Of course, every player as young as him has things he can shore up defensively, but what's more likely holding him back is a lack of urgency on the part of the Dodgers, who you may have noticed already have the best lineup in baseball. Still, with Gavin Lux providing little in the way of assistance yet again, they could reconfigure their infield to accommodate Vargas, moving Max Muncy to second base full-time. Vargas is doing his best to force the issue, batting .374 with an 1.104 OPS over his past 23 games.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Brayan Bello, SP, Red Sox
2021 minors: 7-3, 3.87 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 95 1/3 IP, 31 BB, 132 K
2022 minors: 6-2, 1.97 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 45 2/3 IP, 16 BB, 62 K
There may not be a pitching prospect who's improved his stock more this year than Bello, who's looking like an ace-in-waiting for the Red Sox after being left out of every major preseason top 100. And that wait may not be a long one. A move up to Triple-A has done nothing to slow the 23-year-old down. He's recorded double-digit strikeouts in each of his first two starts there. Between the two highest levels this year, he now has an incredible 19 percent swinging-strike rate. The major-league leader Corbin Burnes is at 17.5 percent. Bello's fastball, which peaks at 98 mph, was thought to be pretty hittable last year but is getting more sink this year. The combination of missed bats and ground balls could make him a run-suppressing machine.
Kyle Stowers, OF, Orioles
2021 minors: .278 BA (449 AB), 27 HR, .897 OPS, 73 BB, 171 K
2022 minors: .260 BA (127 AB), 10 HR, .944 OPS, 17 BB, 34 K
The Orioles don't have an opening in their outfield at the moment, but Stowers has positioned himself to step into the next one, having curbed his strikeouts without compromising his power at Triple-A. In fact, he just a had a three-homer game Sunday, giving him seven home runs in his past eight games to go along with a 23 percent strikeout rate, down from 32 percent a year ago. His ability to impact the ball has never been in question, his exit velocities consistently ranking among the highest at his level. Improved control over his swing gives the 24-year-old a better chance of fulfilling his potential as a middle-of-the-order bat.
Alec Burleson, OF, Cardinals
2021 minors: .270 BA (456 AB), 22 HR, .783 OPS, 42 BB, 101 K
2022 minors: .303 BA (145 AB), 9 HR, .907 OPS, 9 BB, 23 K
Unlike Stowers, making contact has never been Burleson's problem. The 23-year-old has worked hard to develop power more befitting his burly build, both by taking bigger hacks and by upping his launch angle, and it has him at the precipice of the majors. Three times already, the Cardinals have dipped into their minor-league system to improve their major-league lot, first with Juan Yepez, then Brendan Donovan, then Nolan Gorman, so suffice it to say Burleson is pretty far down the pecking order. But he's peaking at the right time, having collected multiple hits in five of his past seven games, including three straight with three hits.
Logan O'Hoppe, C, Phillies
2021 minors: .270 BA (393 AB), 17 HR, .789 OPS, 33 BB, 76 K
2022 minors: .315 BA (124 AB), 8 HR, 1.011 OPS, 17 BB, 25 K
The Phillies may soon have the best sort of problem on their hands with O'Hoppe quickly developing into an asset at the position where they already have J.T. Realmuto locked up long-term. O'Hoppe has always stood out for his defense but has made enormous strides with regard to plate discipline over the past couple of years. The biggest leap came in the Arizona Fall League last year when he walked 21 times in 22 games, and his .422 on-base percentage this year would suggest it's carried over. The 22-year-old is still at Double-A but is begging for a bump up the ladder, batting .515 (17 for 33) with six homers during a 10-game hitting streak.
Brandon Walter, SP, Red Sox
2021 minors: 5-4, 2.92 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 89 1/3 IP, 20 BB, 132 K
2022 minors: 1-2, 3.14 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 43 IP, 3 BB, 60 K
I've been meaning for a while now to sound the trumpet for Walter. What better time than after his best start yet, one in which he went a season-high seven innings and recorded a season-high 11 strikeouts? He walked nobody in that game, and that's mainly what I want to highlight here. The guy has 60 strikeouts compared to just three walks. Yeah, he's 25, but there's no faking it once a player reaches Double-A, as he has. His low arm slot gives him a big horizontal beak on his slider, which helps account for all the strikeouts.